Unbeknownst to the people getting matched up with Max Griffin as of late, they’ve been getting paired off with a progressing fighter that has been and continues to be walking around with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder.
The first unlucky soul sent into battle opposite this current iteration of Griffin was Tim Means, who had the unenviable task of facing the 37-year-old Northern California staple following a debated split decision loss to Neil Magny in March 2022. Despite breaking his hand in the opening round, Griffin still secured a unanimous decision win.
The next individual tapped to share the Octagon is Michael Morales, the unbeaten member of the Dana White’s Contender Series Class of ’21, who will step in with Griffin in the middle of this weekend’s main card.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m on five wins in a row,” Griffin said when we spoke earlier in the month, his energy high right out of the chute. “I’m not going to let one judge take that from me. Mentally, I’ve won five straight. I don’t look at that as a loss, even though I didn’t get my number, and that’s probably the worst part. He was No. 9, I feel like I beat him, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.
“I’ve shed that skin from that Neil Magny fight. I don’t have a burning in my heart about it like I did.”
Beating Means certainly helped with all that, but so too does the overall success Griffin has been having as of late, which overlaps with how he’s been feeling.
Officially, he’s 4-1 over his last five outings, and he’s never looked better.
While he made his pro debut in 2010, Griffin started fighting regularly in 2012 and has been making steady trips to the cage ever since. He was a staple on the California regional circuit, building a reputation as a dangerous emerging talent while competing under the West Coast FC and Tachi Palace Fights banners, where he beat familiar names like Waachim Spiritwolf, Ricky Legere Jr. and former UFC competitor David Mitchell.
He landed in the UFC in 2016, debuting with a loss to Colby Covington at UFC 202 and going just 3-6 over his first nine appearances; never winning consecutive contests, but never dropping more than two straight, either. The high point was a unanimous decision win over Mike Perry, and the strength of schedule he fought made him an easy veteran hand to keep around.
But he started working with a mental coach following a loss to Alex Oliveira, and since then, things have really started to click. Despite being at an age when many of his contemporaries are slowing down and starting to inch towards the exit, Griffin’s game has been evolving, improving, and his performances have been markedly better.
“I know guys are getting older and retiring, but that’s nowhere near my radar,” he said with a laugh, offering the comment on “The R Word” without any prompting. "It’s spreading like a wild fire where one guy says it and then there are a bunch of retirements that last six months or a year.
“But these guys decline as they get older. These guys that are staying around when they’re declining, and then they stay around too long, looking bad for numerous fights — but I can tell I’m getting better. Stuff is getting easier to do. I’m hitting harder, faster. It’s all about experience and you can’t buy that.
“Yeah, I’m 37, but I’m like a young mind, my soul is young.”
And all that experience he’s garnered is now being combined with an ever-improving understanding of how to do things, better training, a clearer mind, and it’s resulted in the best run of success of Griffin’s career.
“As I’m becoming a vet, I’m learning to use my body more, be more efficient,” continued Griffin, who is also kept spry by his two-year-old son, Tyrus, who “only runs” according to his proud father. “You don’t even really know until you get there as far as these boosts.
“I know I’m learning every day, because that’s what I do; I’m a student, I’m humble, and I’m learning. For me to hit harder, faster, kick harder and faster than I’ve ever kicked — I’ve known how to kick my whole life, but now it’s the right angles, and speed, and the little foot turn at the end.
Max Griffin Post-Fight Interview | UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Allen
Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!
Max Griffin Post-Fight Interview | UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs Allen
“It’s like when you have a high-performance car: the mechanic is just tweaking little things here and there. At this level, it’s the small things — angles, waiting to pull the trigger for a split second, letting shots develop; hit the guy and wait a second to see where he’s going to go, rather than just firing. But it comes with experience. I wouldn’t know what I know now without being in there with so many of the best guys on the planet.
“Right now is the best I have been.”
From a promoter’s standpoint, that’s what makes him the perfect dance partner for Morales this weekend.
Now 24 years old, Morales earned his UFC contract with an impressive decision win over Nikolay Veretennikov on Season 5 of Dana White’s Contender Series, joining the roster as one of the more promising new additions of the season. He backed up those projections with a first-round stoppage win over Trevin Giles in his promotional debut and followed it up with a third-round finish of Adam Fugitt in his sophomore showing.
Unbeaten in 14 professional fights, the native of Ecuador, who trains with the team at Entram Gym, stands as one of the top young talents on the roster, and is at the point in his burgeoning career where he’s due for a stern, veteran test.
If he wins, it could potentially propel him closer to the rankings and into an even more high-profile pairing, and should he falter, there is still plenty of time to take a step back, regroup, and start working forward once more.
But Griffin isn’t concerned with how or why this matchup makes sense from a promotional standpoint — he just wants to show Morales and everyone else that he’s not the guy you book these emerging names against if you’re looking to see them collect a quality win over a veteran name.
“My first thought was, ‘Who the f***? Michael Morales? F*** Michael Morales! I just beat Tim Means, I’m on a five-fight winning streak — I want someone better! I want someone that’s been in there, is ranked,’” Griffin said, acknowledging that he’s come around to being the tenured old head that gets to teach this young fella a thing or two about fighting on Saturday night.
“I’m not the one,” he added. “I kind of have a chip on my shoulder about this. I’m not the one. I’m not the old guy that is gonna let this new m*****f***** beat me. I was offended at first and I think some of that being offended is still there, is still in my heart, but the last new person they sent me was Ramiz (Brahimaj) and I cut his f***ing ear off; smashed him.”
In November 2020, with Griffin on a two-fight skid, he was booked opposite the promotional newcomer Brahimaj, a member of the Fortis MMA crew that had amassed an 8-2 record competing primarily in the LFA.
Griffin spent the first two rounds showing he was too much for the debutant, and a couple minutes into the third round, the bout was halted after the punishment Brahimaj had amassed caused his left ear to start showing damage, resulting in one of the gnarliest stoppages in UFC history.
That bout served as the start of Griffin’s current run of quality form, and he’s looking to turn in a similar type of performance against Morales this weekend.
“Yeah, Michael Morales is 14-0, he’s young, they like him, he’s hot, but he hasn’t fought anybody,” offered Griffin, sharing his thoughts on his opponent. “He fought no one that’s been good. The last two guys he fought, Adam Fugitt and Trevin Giles, they’re weak sauce, and in those fights, what they were doing were the wrong things. He caught them and yes, he’ll swarm you and he has a nice right hand, but he fights f***ing cocky, he jumps off the cage too much — he thinks he’s the s***, and most of his fights were guys in t-shirts.
“He’s good, but I’m gonna prove that they made a big f***ing mistake by putting him against me. He’s good, but he’s raw and needs more time. He needs more time and I’m not the one; I’m not the guy to try to make into a steppingstone for him.”
The fired-up welterweight took a beat, collecting himself.
“I’m gonna teach him a lesson,” he added. “He’s good, but he doesn’t have the experience, and he’s fighting me.”
And in case it wasn’t already clear, Max Griffin is not the one.
UFC Fight Night: Strickland vs Magomedov took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 1, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!